Djibouti lies in northeast Africa on the Gulf of Aden at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. It borders Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia. The country, the size of Massachusetts, is mainly a stony desert, with scattered plateaus and highlands.
Republic with a unicameral legislature.
Ablé immigrants from Arabia migrated to what is now Djibouti in about the 3rd century B.C. Their descendants are the Afars, one of the two main ethnic groups that make up Djibouti today. Somali Issas arrived thereafter. Islam came to the region in 825.
Djibouti was acquired by France between 1843 and 1886 through treaties with the Somali sultans. Small, arid, and sparsely populated, it is important chiefly because of the capital city's port, the terminal of the Djibouti–Addis Ababa railway that carries 60% of Ethiopia's foreign trade. Originally known as French Somaliland, the colony voted in 1958 and 1967 to remain under French rule. It was renamed the Territory of the Afars and Issas in 1967 and took the name of its capital city on June 27, 1977, when France transferred sovereignty to the new independent nation of Djibouti. On Sept. 4, 1992, voters approved in referendum a new multiparty constitution. In 1991, conflict between the Afars and the Issa-dominated government erupted and the continued warfare has ravaged the country.
The dictatorial president, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who had run the country since its independence, finally stepped aside in 1999, and Ismail Omar Guelleh was elected president. In March 2000, the main Afars rebel group signed a peace accord with the government. The fighting, severe drought, and the presence of tens of thousands of refugees from its war-torn neighbors, Ethiopia and Somalia, have severely strained Djibouti's agricultural capacity.
The Vital Port of Djibouti Receives International Aid
In April 2000, experts estimated some 150,000 people, or more than one-quarter of the population, needed food aid. The UN agreed to spend $2.7 million to increase the city of Djibouti's port facilities since it is a crucial regional grain terminus. In 2002, Djibouti became a key U.S. military base used to combat terrorism. In 2005, President Guelleh, running unopposed, was reelected.
In parliamentary elections in Feb. 2008, which were boycotted by the three main opposition parties, the ruling Union for the Presidential Majority won 94.1% of the vote, taking all 65 seats.
In 2010, Parliament approved a constitutional amendment that allowed the president to run for a third term. However, it reduced the term from six years to five. Presidential elections in 2011 saw incumbent Ismail Omar Guelleh win a third term with 80.6% of the vote and a turnout of 69.7%. The opposition participated in parliamentary elections in Feb. 2013, the first time since its boycott in 2003. However, the governing Union for the Presidential Majority won 49 out of 65 seats, and the opposition denounced the results.
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